Morocco are in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 courtesy of a dramatic Mouhssine Iajour goal in injury-time. The Moroccans notched a 1-0 victory over Japan in their round of 16 clash in Enschede after a closely-contested game.
Morocco coach Jamal Fathi made just one change to the side that defeated Chile 1-0: Adil Chihi came in as an additional striker, relegating Hicham El Amrani to the bench. His Japanese counterpart Kiyoshi Okhuma also made a solitary adjustment to his team after their 1-1 draw with Australia; striker Takayuki Morimoto making way for defender cum striker Koki Mizuno.
Even before the first whistle, the hordes of Moroccan fans had turned the Enschede stadium into a cauldron of noise, making the match a home fixture for their team. Inspired by Nabil El Zhar, the North Africans seized the early initiative; Japan countering their offensive style with short, sharp passes and almost taking the lead after a quarter of an hour. Yohei Kajiyama capitalised on a goalkeeping error by Moroccan custodian Mohammed Bourkadi, only for the North African defence to clear.
With the Japanese growing in confidence, Robert Cullen won the ball in midfield before seeing his 20-yard drive hit the woodwork (20). Morocco seemed relatively undaunted by their unassuming opponents. However, Cullen's bad luck in front of goal continued when a deflected effort hit the bar (28).
Morocco weathered the storm and attempted to exert some pressure of their own; their best opportunity coming before the break when Tarik Bendamou saw his shot guided over the bar by Japanese keeper Shusaku Nishikawa after attractive build-up play from Adil Chihi and Karim El Ahmadi (38).
Mizuno goes close as Japan rally
The Moroccans started strongly again after the break but it was Japan who had the first sight of goal when Mizuno fired over the bar (48.). Morocco also came close: Mouhssine Iajour sending a Bendamou cross just wide with his head (53). Japan captain Tatsuya Masushima shot just wide on the hour-mark with a fine effort on the turn. Six minutes later, Bendamou placed a perfect cross on the head of Iajour, only for Nishikawa to deny the Moroccan with an outstanding save.
As Morocco stepped up through the gears, Japan withdrew into their own half and began to show lapses in concentration. They did remain dangerous on their rare forays forward, however, substitute Shunsuke Maeda going close with a free-kick (84). Morocco threatened three minutes later when a Iajour shot sailed just wide (87). Sota Hirayama went close for Japan in the final minute of normal time. However, with extra time looming, it was Iajour who showed his class, converting a 92nd-minute opportunity to claim victory for Morocco (1:0).
Morocco coach Jamal Fathi was delighted with the result: "That was a very difficult game for us. Japan were very strong. There had to be a winner and a loser, but I think we deserved the victory. It was a very even game in the first half, although Japan hit the post and the bar. Rachid Tiberkanine of Ajax Amsterdam made the difference for us in the second half."
Japanese coach Kiyoshi Okhuma remained optimistic despite the defeat: "In contrast to the earlier games in the championship, today we showed what Japanese football has to offer. Unfortunately, we could not get the right result. Obviously I am very disappointed. The players gave their all, but overall I am very pleased with my team."